• Jeremy Hunt says he “should probably raise” dedicated immigration visa category for health and care with home secretary
  • Follows NHS concerns and political row over limits on NHS staff entering the country
  • Says relying on overseas workers should be a “short term measure”

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt will raise the prospect of creating a dedicated immigration visa category for health and social care staff with the new home secretary, he has revealed to HSJ.

There has been growing concern in recent weeks about immigration rules hampering the recruitment of nurses and doctors, with NHS Employers warning that 400 visas for doctors had been rejected since December, because government caps had been met.

NHS Employers and medical royal colleges have called on the Home Office to exclude nurses – who are on the national shortage occupation list – from being counted against its tier two visa cap, in order to free up places for doctors.

There are also ongoing concerns about the uncertain impact of Brexit.

Last Tuesday, it was claimed in media reports that the prime minister had blocked requests to allow more doctors into the country, following requests from other Cabinet members.

Asked by HSJ on Friday whether he would support a dedicated visa category for health and social care workers – which would enable more to come into the UK – Mr Hunt indicated he was likely to lobby the recently-appointed home secretary, Sajid Javid, for this.

The health and social care secretary told HSJ: “I think it is a really interesting idea. And it’s something I should probably raise with the new home secretary.”

He added: “The view of the government and the country is that we recognise we are going to need to import healthcare workers from overseas but that [the public] want it to be a short term measure as we boost training numbers in our system, which we are now starting to do by quite significant levels.

“It is invidious when the NHS gets traded off against other sectors in the economy. We do have to make sure we stay true to the desire of the British public to have controlled immigration policies, so I don’t rule out that [a dedicated visa category] being part of dicussions I have with Sajid.”

Mr Hunt was speaking to HSJ during a visit to Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust, where he was presenting to staff on patient safety. This is part of a personal intention by Mr Hunt to visit every trust in England to speak about safety.

He told HSJ the purpose was in part to “send a message” to chief executives and medical directors, who he asks to be in the room for the presentation, “that the time the secretary of state visited, it was to talk about patient safety”. Epsom was the 99th trust Mr Hunt has visited for this purpose.

He said: “It is very very hard to get across a message like that through the mainstream media because the NHS is a political hot potato so the national media will always look at everything you say through a political lens, and Twitter is the Wild West.

“So actually, it’s very old fashioned, but talking to people seems to work and I have probably done that presentation to 5,000 staff across the NHS which is still a tiny percentage of all NHS staff but it is still significant and I have found I am always impressed about how enthusiastic people are about patient safety.

“We have a long, long way to go but I do feel we are starting to make progress.”

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